Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Small Change, Part 1--Currency

When I moved to Canada, I knew that relocating to a new country would mean big changes in my life, and so far, many of those big changes have been challenging. What has surprised me are the number minor ways my day-to-day activities and interactions would begin to change. I wanted to share some of the small variations that have crept into my life as I’ve become accustomed to living in Ontario.

Many Americans, myself included, enjoy the challenge of attempting to pay in exact change for cash purchases. Americans really seem to hate carrying coins, and every purchase they make is an attempt to reduce their coin-to-paper ratio. At any store checkout in the US, you can see those paying with cash reaching into the deepest, darkest corners of pockets and purses to find a nickel or a penny, usually under the guise of helping out the cashier. In reality, though, the goal is to eliminate the buyer’s burden of coins. In the US, if I were to make a purchase totaling, say, $28.26 and I didn’t have the exact amount, I might give the cashier $33.26 or $30.31 or $103.26—any combination so that I would only decrease the number of coins in my possession.

Also, as an American, I was accustomed to not even considering the coins in my possession as part of my overall assets. If I wanted to go to meet friends for a drink, I’d look in my wallet and count the money I had in bills. I wouldn’t even think about the change.

Now that I’m in the land of Loonies and Toonies, I have to re-evaluate my approach to budgeting and spending. Just today, I looked in my wallet for any money, found the billfold portion empty and then felt despair at being broke. But, then I remembered to check the change purse in my wallet, and found I had enough there to buy a small tropical island. Quite often, I’ve been able to cover a week’s worth of expenses using only the coins I had received in change during the prior weekend.

While I’ve started to realize that I need to consider coins in my daily wealth calculation, I’m still having a bit of difficulty breaking myself from the habit of trying to win the change challenge every time I pay for something in cash. If I go to the Little Short Stop and buy $16.25 of Gatorade and all I have is a $20 bill and a loonie, guess what? I will be receiving somewhere between seven and eighty-seven coins as change, depending on what denominations the cashier has available. Or, if I’m buying a new shirt for $22.25, if I give the cashier a $20, a $5, and a quarter, I will actually end up with more coins than I started with.

I also have a tendency to not think of these coins as important money. A paper bill seems so much more valuable than a coin, even if the bill is $1 and the coin is $2, just because I’m used to discounting my change. This means that I don’t hesitate to spend coins. Spending $15 a week on Tim Horton’s doesn’t seem as big of a deal when you’re paying with coins that you consider spare change. I would probably be more reluctant and guilt-ridden about spending the same amount in $5 bills. I know that governments claim to save money in costs by replacing paper bills with coins, but could this also be an economic stimulus plan???

1 comment:

Adam said...

I always thought, given human nature and what I agree you correctly stated about paper money vs. coins, that converting the U.S. dollar into a coin would increase spending. Alot. I am surprised that the U.S. hasn't already made the switch. That Canada has a one and two dollar coin instead of paper versions, does, indeed, tend to load up one's pockets full of heaviness. And spending those coins, is (also) indeed, easier than the larger paper denominations. When out drinking with friends in the States, I would have never thought to use coins to pay for my beer. "They" would all laugh at me, right? Here in Canada (T.O.)I will unabashedly pay for that glass or pitcher of beer with what those in the restaurant business affectionately term "rattle." If I didn't, I would, like you, have enough coinage in my pocket at the end of the week, to buy a small tropical island. Luckily, chances are there would be no GST on such a purchase. :-)